Healthcare is in a period of major transition today.

With the emergence of new technology and novel approaches to data science, biomedical researchers are now able to collect data a lot faster than they can process it. In other words, our ability to acquire immense stores of data is proliferating rapidly, but scientists’ ability to make sense of all the information is lagging.

Dr. Atul Butte, who heads the Institute for Computational Health Sciences at the University of California – San Francisco, explains the issue in a recent interview with NPR. “It’s not that any one data repository is growing exponentially. The number of data repositories are growing exponentially,” Dr. Butte says. It seems that, despite the technological integration that has occurred in banking, publishing, and other industries, doctors are currently struggling to incorporate the amazing medical discoveries we read about in the news.

Access to new technologies and innovative data science is providing pharmaceutical companies with an opportunity to gain novel insights that can enhance and accelerate drug development. Leo Anthony Celi, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who also serves as the director of clinical research at MIT’s Laboratory of Computational Physiology, is working with colleagues to consolidate biomedical data through collecting patient data for the Medical Information Mart in Intensive Care (MIMIC).

“It is a database containing information from 60,000 patient admissions to the intensive care units of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center,” Professor Celi says. “We bring together front-line clinicians (such as nurses, pharmacists, and doctors) to identify questions they want to investigate, and data scientists

[who are involved in the project] conduct the appropriate analyses.”

Of course, though big data analytics has the potential to revolutionize medicine and healthcare as we know it, working with large troves of sensitive personal data also gives rise to legitimate concerns about patient privacy, security, and compliance.

Within the context of big data, determining who–or what–will host medical records presents unprecedented challenges. Considering the unique nature of medical data, it is hard to know what kind of restitution would suffice in the event of a data breach. In other words, determining a fair system to compensate medical patients for a “loss of privacy” is one of the difficult questions that remains.